Despite his conservative nature, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, believes the arts are important and said he'll continue to support federal funding for them.

Speaking to several hundred students last week in the Marriott Center for Dance at the University of Utah, he said the state has a long history of support for the arts."I don't think Utahns realize the tremendous heritage we have in this state for the arts," Bennett said.

He said the Salt Lake Theater was built before the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

Bennett said that despite the hostile environment for the Mormon Pioneers in 1847, they put on a simple play only two weeks after arriving in the S.L. Valley. In fact, he believes Brigham Young was the first Utah politician to support public arts in the state.

He supports funding for the National Endowment Association and does not believe the $100 million in arts money currently used there could be better spent in welfare programs.

Bennett believes the federal funds that are currently spent on the arts would simply get lost in welfare programs and make little difference to poverty levels.

It's not a numbers game. He said the problem with poverty is not money, but management.

Bennett said arts need to remain somewhat controversial, though they shouldn't be an in-your-face kind of thing.

Even though New York and California receive a disproportionate share of federal arts funding, he believes there is a benefit in Utah from their programs too.

He told the audience, mostly arts students, that arts are an enriching experience on a campus.

Indeed, Bennett reminisced that during his early years as a student at the U. in the 1950s, he participated in a play in the Sandbox Theater. He played the villain in a tragedy of tragedies on the life and death of Tom Thumb. By the play's end, every character had died.

"We had a lot of fun with it," he said, admitting his current job as a senator requires a good deal of acting too.